State orders reopening temporary hospital at Georgia World Congress Center due to surge in Covid-19 patients

A temporary hospital is being reopened at the Georgia World Congress Center as coronavirus-related hospitalizations reach new records across the state. Financial impacts on health care facilities from this surge of patients is expected to be “significant” as people continue to become sick and need to be hospitalized, according to a Grady Health System official.

Gov. Brian Kemp announced July 31 that a 120-bed facility to treat Covid-19 patients would open at the GWCC on Monday, Aug. 3, and immediately house an initial surge of 60 beds to “provide relief to surrounding health care facilities.” Grady Memorial Hospital will serve as the lead hospital for clinical oversight for the 120-bed facility, Kemp said. The state is also spending $1.2 million to partner with Grady to use its resources to track hospital bed capacity statewide for Covid-19 patients.

“My administration is laser-focused on expanding hospital surge capacity while working to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Georgia,” Kemp said in the news release.

The governor’s decision to reopen a facility at GWCC comes after many hospitals have reported in recent weeks that they are reaching capacity of Covid-19 patients or being forced to divert patients to other facilities due to the rising infections. A 200-bed temporary hospital at GWCC was opened in April in anticipation of hospitals being overwhelmed but it was closed after about one month.

Dr. Robert Jansen, chief medical officer at Grady, said he thinks every hospital in the state “has been stretched again” just as they were during March and April. Reopening the GWCC is a statement that Georgia is “once again in danger of overwhelming the hospitals,” he said.

“And that is what we have tried to avoid,” Jansen said. “Having to open the GWCC is basically an admission that we cannot keep up with the volume of patients that need hospitalizations. And that is a direct result of the number of infections.

“Everybody’s tired of wearing masks and everybody’s tired of not being around their friends and colleagues, but this time we’ve got to be really cognizant of the fact that the only thing we can do short of completely shutting the economy down again, which none of us want to see happen, is to be responsible, where the mask, social distancing, not being in large crowds and just doing the things that we know work,” Jansen said.

The Georgia Department of Public Health reported that on July 31 there were 4,045 cases, 30 deaths and 339 hospitalizations. Since the pandemic began in March, there have been nearly 183,000 confirmed cases; 3671 deaths; 18,303 hospitalizations; and 3,354 ICU admissions, according to the DPH. Current data shows slightly more than 10% of the those tested for Covid-19 are positive.

The Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency is tracking the pandemic as well. It’s July 30 Georgia Situation Report shows rising numbers of infections in Covid-19 cases in all the counties surrounding metro Atlanta. Fulton, Gwinnett, DeKalb and Cobb counties continue to report the most confirmed cases during the pandemic at more than 10,000 each.

The Georgia Association of Emergency Medical Services produces a Georgia Hospital Resource Report. On July 31, the report shows several hospital reporting they are diverting patients elsewhere due to being at capacity while many others are reporting being at capacity.

“When we look across the city and across the state, we see that many hospitals are either at capacity or almost a capacity, both from a medical floor and critical care basis,” Jansen said. “Grady is no different. We have been basically running at capacity.”

In fact, Grady and other hospitals have seen a 300% to 400% increase in Covid-19 patients in the past 30 days, he said.

For example, at the start of May, Grady’s highest number of Covid-19 patients was 75, Jansen said. Recently, the hospital was treating about 20 Covid-19 patients. But on Wednesday, July 29, the hospital had 103 patients. The number of patients was slightly down on July 31, but some patients were transferred to a Piedmont Healthcare center that has been opened for Covid-19 patients.

The hospital has been forced to convert nursing training rooms into rooms for inpatient beds because the emergency room is overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients, Jansen said.

The newer patients do not require as much critical care on a percentage basis, Jansen said. There are still “a number of patients in critical care who are on ventilators,” he said, but not any more than Grady had earlier in the pandemic. Now it’s more patients who are on the medical floors that require care.

“We haven’t been overwhelmed, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t stressful,” Jansen said.

Jansen said he could not provide the financial impact Grady is feeling due to the increase in Covid-19 patients in increase weeks. The hospital did receive some CARES Act funding, but the net effect of how the pandemic will impact the nonprofit hospital is unknown, he said.

Emory Healthcare in May reported it expected a $660 million revenue shortfall due to the pandemic. Also in May, Wellstar Health System reported it expected a budget shortfall between $400 million to $600 million through December.

“Honestly we don’t know what the effect is going to be because we just don’t know how long this is going to go on,” Jansen said. “This is July, almost August, and if this volume of patients continues to the end of the year and into next year, the financial impact on all institutions is going to be significant.”

Many people thought the Covid-19 infections would decrease during the summer months, he said.

“That didn’t occur. In fact, the increase occurred because we relaxed the restrictions and people started going out and going to restaurants and bars and having gatherings and it spread very quickly because we kind of let our guard down a little bit,” Jansen said.

“We stopped wearing masks, we stopped social distancing and the surge occurred,” he added. “The only thing we can really do is to get people to go back to wearing masks and reducing the density of people in one place. It’s just a matter of people having the discipline to do that.”

Jansen said he supports a statewide face mask mandate. “But that is up to the politicians, not to me. I think a lot of epidemiologists and public health personnel would like to see that, but I leave that up to the people in the governor’s mansion.”

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